For personal use and select distribution only © February 2001 by "Tiff" Amber Stockton
The Heart Will Find a Way
by Tiffany Miller
Michaela looked up from the patient file she was updating just as the door to the clinic opened. "Good morning, sweetheart." She greeted her daughter and smiled at Sarah, who accompanied her. "Did you have a nice walk with Sarah?"
"Yes, mama!" the little girl replied enthusiastically, running to her mother and climbing into her lap. "Sar-wah fun!" Her smile quickly turned to a pout before she continued. "But big horsey scare me, mama." Katie buried her head against Michaela's chest, and Michaela looked questioningly at Sarah.
"Don't worry, Dr. Mike." Sarah was quick to reassure her. "We were walking over in the meadow, and when we were on our way back here, we came to the fence. There was a horse that reared up in front of us. It wasn't close enough to us to harm us, but Katie was a little scared when she saw it happen."
Michaela smiled and pulled her daughter away from her to look into her face. "Did you see a really big horse, sweetheart?"
"Yes, mama, but I glad Sar-wah there."
"I'm glad Sarah was there, too. She takes very good care of you, doesn't she?" Katie nodded, and mother and daughter smiled at the adolescent girl, who grew a little uncomfortable under the praise bestowed upon her. "Now, why don't you and Sarah go into the other room and occupy yourselves while Mama finishes her work, all right?" Michaela turned and placed her daughter on the floor beside her chair, then leaned down and placed a kiss on the top of her head. "Be a good girl, Katie," Michaela admonished in parting.
"Yes, mama," Katie dutifully replied. She reached out a hand for Sarah to hold as the two of them walked together to the other front room of the clinic.
Michaela smiled and looked at the closed door through which they had just gone, thankful again for Sarah's willingness to watch Katie so often. She had helped in so many ways when Michaela had patients to see or work to do, and there was no one else around to watch her daughter. This morning, Sully was doing some work for Robert E, and Brian was working with Dorothy at the Gazette, so Sarah's assistance was appreciated more than ever. There must have been many things she could be doing on a Saturday, yet she willingly remained with Katie.
Turning her attention back to her work, Michaela read over words she had recently written to update the patient's file. Mr. Withers had left not too long ago after coming in for his scheduled monthly visit. Although she always enjoyed his appointments, in a way, she was concerned about the older gentleman. She didn't see him in town too often, despite his living in a small cabin only a few minutes away. He had been coming to her for almost a year, with the exception of when the weather was too bad for him to make it into town. Each time he came, she pronounced him to be in fine health, regardless of the problems he was always able to invent when she asked.
She thought back to a visit last year, before the first snow of winter had fallen. Mr. Withers arrived for his monthly appointment, and after finishing her examination, he had smiled and asked what the prognosis was, although there was a teasing glint in his eyes, just like all times. Upon being asked why he insisted that he continue to come to clinic each month, he had smiled and told her it was his only legitimate excuse for seeing the pretty lady doctor and sometimes catching a glimpse of her beautiful little girl.
Michaela blushed now, just as she did then, smiling at how much Mr. Withers actually reminded her of her own father. She remembered his teasing just as much as Mr. Withers, and he always had a flattering or encouraging word for all of his patients, regardless of their circumstances. That was the one thing she tried to maintain in her own practice, although there were many times she wasn't as successful. Nevertheless, thoughts of her father and the special years they had spent together always produced a smile and memories of good times.
She was startled out of her reverie when she felt two arms encircle her waist. Realizing who it was, though, she immediately relaxed as Sully leaned down and began to nuzzle her neck. He smiled at her actions. "I see you ain't too preoccupied to notice your husband, when he comes to see ya," he teased.
"Now just what is that supposed to mean?" She turned her head around to look at him, trying to force a hurt look onto her face, but not having much success.
"It's just that ya didn't hear me knock or come in, and ya didn't even notice me walkin' over here, until I put my arms around ya. Must have been thinkin' about somethin' real nice to make ya smile that way."
"Mm, I was. I was simply remembering the fond moments with my father," she told him.
"And what made ya think of him?"
"Mr. Withers was in again this morning for his monthly visit. I find that he reminds me a lot of my father," she explained.
"Do ya still miss him?" Sully reached out and clasped one of her hands between his own, giving her a tender look.
Michaela sighed. "Of course, I miss him, but I also know I have my fond memories of him to keep him close to my heart," she replied. Sully leaned in and placed a brief kiss on her lips, then leaned his forehead against hers. She smiled. "So, what brings you over here this morning? I thought you were doing work with Robert E."
"I was," he answered, "but I wanted to invite you to Grace's for lunch."
"Oh? And what's the special occasion?"
"Just figured we could have a quiet lunch together, maybe talk," he hedged.
"Talk? About what?"
"Well, you were the one who wanted to talk about Valentine's Day comin' up, and I thought today would be a good time to do that."
"Yes, I would like to discuss our plans for that," she agreed.
"You got somethin' specific in mind?"
Michaela turned back towards her desk, and Sully moved around to stand and lean against it. "No, not really. I merely thought it might be nice to spend the day together, alone, perhaps take a walk or do something special," she suggested.
"An' what makes this year more special than any other?" Michaela feigned attention on her patient file, but Sully wasn't going to let her ignore him. He reached out and tipped her face up to look at him. "Michaela?"
She slowly raised her eyes to look at him, silently reprimanding herself for feeling hesitant in Sully's presence. Seeing the encouragement in his eyes, she saw no reason to not be completely honest with him. "I was merely thinking about all we've been through since last year," she began. "I thought perhaps this year, we could reaffirm our love?" She held his gaze, wondering what his reaction would be.
Sully smiled at her hesitation, but appreciated her honesty. Wanting to reassure her before she had any more doubts, he reached down and took her hands in his, standing and drawing her up to stand in front of him. "Well, we better get to plannin', cuz that's one thing I know I'm gonna enjoy!" he teased.
Michaela lowered her gaze, but Sully caught her eyes and urged her to look up once again. He released her hand to lightly guide her face close to his. Their lips touched, briefly at first, but then lingered and blended together. Michaela's arms found their way around his neck and his arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her closer to him, as he deepened the kiss.
"Michaela, sorry for bustin' in like this, but.....oh, excuse me!" Hank said with a grin when he saw the two of them. Sully and Michaela immediately broke apart, and a deep blush covered her cheeks. "Ain't no reason to be embarassed in front of me, Michaela. Guess the two of ya ain't able to find time to be alone at home, so ya gotta find elsewhere to do it. Don't mind me a bit," Hank continued to tease.
Michaela recovered and forced herself to assume her professional demeanor once again. "Was there something you needed, Hank?"
Hank just smiled and chuckled at her obvious attempt to ignore his barbs. "Yeah, one of my girls needs to see ya, complainin' of some pain she's got."
Sully cleared his throat. "I think I'll head on back over to Robert E's. We still got some things to finish up." He focused on Michaela. "I'll see ya in a little while?"
"Yes," she replied, accepting his brief kiss.
Hank stepped aside to allow Sully to pass. "Sully." He nodded his head.
"Hank," Sully returned.
Michaela grabbed her medical bag and stepped towards Hank. "I'll accompany you to the saloon."
He nodded his head, gesturing for her to leave ahead of him. When they both stepped out onto the porch, Michaela turned to close the door, then walked with Hank across the street.
* * * * *
Michaela walked around the side of the clinic and towards the café, slightly tired from her busy morning. She anticipated her lunch with Sully and couldn't help but keep the smile from her face at the prospect of discussing their plans for Valentine's Day. She was also grateful Sarah had agreed to keep Katie a little while longer.
"Dr. Mike!" Grace greeted. "What brings you out here?"
"Good afternoon, Grace. I'm meeting Sully for lunch. We're going to discuss our plans for Valentine's Day."
"Is that so?" Grace smiled, giving Michaela a knowing look. "Things been goin' real good for you both, I'd say."
Michaela averted her eyes for a moment, then looked back. "Yes, they have. It almost seems too good to be true. I keep wondering..."
"Now, don't you go worryin' yourself, Dr. Mike," Grace interrupted. "Ain't no sense in thinkin' of things that ain't happened yet. You're just borrowin' trouble doin' that."
"Yes, Grace, you're right." Michaela focused her thoughts on more pleasant things. "And how about you? How is life with the twins?"
Grace laughed. "Busy! Robert E and me are constantly worryin' about whether or not we're doin' things right, and if we're makin' them both happy."
"I just saw them the other day, Grace, and they are perfectly healthy and happy," Dr. Mike assured her.
"Well, they are sleepin' through the night, finally! I'm just glad I've got Mrs. Sheehan, and Dora Mae and Lydia helpin' me. To tell ya the truth, I don't know how I'd ever get along without them."
"I'm certain you would manage, Grace. If they weren't here, you'd find someone else who was willing to help. People seem to appear when they're needed, at least most of the time."
"You're right, Dr. Mike. Just look around, here. Mrs. Sheehan is doin' a lot of the cookin', and Lydia and Dora Mae are waitin' on my customers. Leaves me free to check on the little ones."
"Speaking of the babies, where are they?" Michaela asked, looking around.
"Oh, they're in a small room right back behind the kitchen," Grace replied.
"Small room? I didn't even know there was one."
"Robert E had it put it when they were buildin' the walls around my café. Guess he figured I'd need a place for the babies to be while I was here, workin'."
"You should be very proud to have him with you, helping to make life as easy as he can for you," Michaela stated.
"Oh, I am, Dr. Mike, don't you worry none about that. He does get on my last nerve, though, sometimes," she let out, frustrated. "Checkin' on me and the twins all the time, makin' sure we got everythin' we need, doin' for me, like I can't do for myself."
"I believe that's a requirement for all fathers, Grace," Michaela said with a smile.
"You mean to tell me Sully was the same way when you had Katie?" Grace couldn't believe it.
"Worse, if that's possible, from what you're telling me about Robert E." Michaela chuckled and Grace smiled. "He was constantly nearby, helping me carry Katie, or reaching for things when I went to get them. He would even try to convince me to come home from work and sit in front of the fireplace while he and the children cooked supper. And at night? That was the worst! He would try to insist on putting Katie to sleep for me, thinking I needed to get my rest from working and being a mother at the same time." Michaela paused and placed a comforting hand on Grace's arm. "No, Grace. Robert E is being completely normal."
Grace couldn't help but laugh at Michaela's description. "Thanks, Dr. Mike. You know, you do make me feel better knowin' I ain't the only one who's had to suffer through a husband constantly under foot! I just hope it don't last too much longer. But, I should be thankful I have him, and I couldn't have picked a better father for our two little ones. There are times when I can't believe we're so happy. Then, there's times when I just want to strangle him for bein' right beside me all the time. Tell me, Dr. Mike, how long did it take for Sully to stop behavin' strangely?"
"I don't know, Grace. Things were a little different for us. I suppose we simply settled into a routine we both enjoyed, sharing the responsibilities which came with having a baby. Of course, we also had Colleen and Brian, and Matthew sometimes helped. I can't say that there was one specific day when things changed. The rough edges of our lives simply smoothed themselves as time passed and we all become accustomed to having Katie in our lives."
"Hard to believe that little girl will be three this year," Grace remarked.
"Yes, I know." Michaela sighed. "Just a little over three months away." She turned and looked out one of the windows the café.
Grace noticed the change that came over her. "You two still thinkin' about havin' another baby?" she asked, gently.
"Oh, no, not really," Michaela quickly dismissed the idea. "No, Katie will most likely be the only baby Sully and I will have together. Besides, we have a full family, with Katie, Brian, Colleen and Matthew...even Andrew, since last year."
"You just never know, Dr. Mike. Look at me and Robert E. We never thought we'd ever have children of our own, and after Anthony died, well, we'd just about given up hope, entirely. Anythin's possible."
Michaela smiled at her friend. "Yes, I suppose it is still possible." One side of her mouth turned up in a grin, and she averted her eyes.
Grace just laughed, understanding exactly what Michaela was saying. "See what I mean? All hope isn't lost yet!" She looked up as another customer entered the café. "Now, listen to me, chatterin' on and keepin' you from your meetin' with Sully. It's real good seein' the two of you so happy again, like you was when you first got married."
"It is a good feeling," Michaela agreed.
"Now, you go on and get yourself a table before it gets too busy in here. The two of you order what you like. It's on the house," she offered.
"Oh, Grace, no, we couldn't."
"Shush, now. I ain't takin' no for an answer. You go on and enjoy your lunch. Let me do somethin' nice for the two of you without hearin' you argue."
Michaela knew it was futile to argue. "Thank you."
"My pleasure," Grace replied. "Now, go!"
Michaela walked over and selected a table against one of the windows, thinking about how different it all seemed being enclosed. She knew it was better for business to have an indoor café, but she also preferred being able to look out and see the meadow or feel the breeze on her skin. She made a mental note to discuss that with Grace for the upcoming spring. She was certain many other customers would also appreciate it.
"So, did ya miss me?" Sully interrupted her thoughts, standing next to her. He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss before joining her and sitting on the other side of the table.
"Did you finish your work with Robert E?"
"Yeah, it's why I'm a little late. We wanted to get it done, so I could get home this afternoon and get workin' on some of the repairs to the barn," Sully replied.
"I'm happy to hear that."
"But, we didn't agree to meet to discuss my plans for today," Sully teased.
"No, you're right, Sully, and I've been thinking," she began.
"I knew you would be." He grinned.
Michaela gave him a look, and he winked, causing her to smile at his obvious teasing. "I thought it would be nice to perhaps take a walk in the afternoon, once the sun has warmed the air a little bit. With it being so cold, we can't plan a day outside."
"Well, we could always go to the hot springs," Sully suggested, reaching across the table and taking one of Michaela's hands in his own, raising it to his lips to place a soft kiss on the back. He looked at her across the table, and Michaela flushed under his intense stare. She became a little flustered, and Sully placed her hand back on the table, but didn't release it. Instead, he held it between his hands and absentmindedly began stroking it with one of his thumbs. "No reason to get nervous, Michaela. It was just a suggestion." The edges of his mouth were turned up in a slight grin, as if he was trying to keep from smiling.
Michaela was finding it very difficult to concentrate on her thoughts, her mind focusing on the feelings coursing through her at Sully's gentle touch. "Yes, yes, I know. I, uh...just wanted to, um...do something simple this year. I didn't want to make a fuss," she finished, letting out the breath she didn't know she'd been holding.
"You, not make a fuss?" Sully asked in disbelief. "Is this the same Michaela I married?"
She couldn't help but smile. "Yes, I know it's not like me, Sully, but I suppose I didn't see a reason to go out of our way, when we......when we only need.....each other to make it special," she finished in a mere whisper.
Sully smiled. "You certainly ain't gonna get any argument from me with that idea! Now, what about Katie and Brian? We ain't exactly alone with them at the homestead. Not that I don't love havin' them around, but it wouldn't exactly leave us with privacy."
"No, you're right, Sully, and I thought perhaps Brian could stay with one of his friends and Katie could stay with Anna Marie and Sarah for the evening. They've both already offered to take Katie whenever we need someone to watch her."
"But, Michaela, we're most likely talkin' about overnight." He couldn't help but grin at that thought, but forced himself to focus more on their discussion than the day to come. "Are ya sure they'll be willin' to take her that long?"
"I don't know, Sully. It was merely a thought, and I suppose I will simply have to ask Mrs. Sheehan if she would mind. I know Sarah and Katie would love it."
"Yeah, ya got a point there. Now, what about...."
"Sully!" Daniel called the moment he entered the café.
The two of them turned to face the sheriff and saw Hank and Matthew with him as well. "What's all this, Daniel?"
"We need you to go with us to apprehend some horse thieves out by the Carson place. We got word they've holed up on a piece of land just outside their property lines, and we intend to capture them, bring them back here for trial," Daniel explained.
"But, why are ya askin' me? You got Hank and Matthew, and I'm sure Jake'll be goin' as well."
"Yeah, you're right, Sully, but none of us know this area like you do, and we don't want them thieves knowin' we're there before we get a chance to surprise them," Hank replied. Seeing Sully hesitate, he continued. "Besides, we'll need you to come up with a plan on how to get all of them and get the horses back where they belong. It ain't no secret that you're good at that kinda stuff."
Sully looked from one man to the other, a little surprised at Hank's insistence in having him along, but at the same time, he was grateful for being asked. It wasn't often Hank admitted needing help from anyone, least of all Sully. He turned to face his wife. "Michaela...."
"Go ahead, Sully. We can finish our discussion later," Michaela was quick to assure him.
"Are ya sure?"
"Yes," she replied with a smile, giving his hands a slight squeeze, where they held hers.
He leaned across the table and gave her a quick kiss. "I'll see ya at home later tonight," he promised.
She smiled and watched him leave, sighing and wondering if they would ever get the chance to make their plans before the day actually arrived. It wasn't long, before she noticed Mrs. Sheehan walking in her direction.
"Dr. Mike, do you mind if I join you?"
"Not at all, Mrs. Sheehan. Please." She gestured towards the place Sully had recently vacated and smiled. "Was there something on your mind?"
"It feels good to just sit down for a spell. I've been on my feet all day." She sighed. "But, since you asked, yes, there is one thing on my mind." At Michaela's interested look, she continued. "I would like it if you would call me Anna Marie. With our two children spending so much time together, I think we should at least be past the point of referring to each other in such a formal manner."
"Yes, I suppose you're right about that. Sometimes, I find it difficult to lay aside my upbringing, even out here," Michaela confessed.
"I certainly understand what you mean," Anna Marie agreed. "Growing up in Atlanta, I was always taught the most proper manners, and I've tried to instill those same manners in Sarah, but there are some which I feel are unnecessary. When you find yourself crossing paths with someone quite often, I don't see the harm in being less formal."
"I couldn't agree more." She changed the subject. "Do you often have the opportunity to take a break from your duties, here?"
"Not often, but with Dora Mae and Lydia, it does make the work a lot easier. Grace is also spending more time again, so that helps as well. Now, what about you? Did I not just see Sully leave with Sheriff Simon and Mr. Lawson a moment ago?"
"Yes, they received word about some horse thieves out near the Carson's property, and they asked Sully to accompany them as a guide," Michaela explained, unsuccessfully keeping the disappointment from showing on her face.
"I gather the two of you were discussing something important?" Anna Marie inquired.
"In a way, I suppose you could say that," Michaela began. "We wanted to make plans for Valentine's Day this week. We haven't had a lot of time to talk, lately, and I'm a little concerned the day will arrive before we really have a chance to decide on something concrete."
"It's not easy, when the two of you find your time being demanded by so many others. I'm certain it feels as if you're being pulled in several directions at once," Anna Marie empathized.
"Yes, it does!" Michaela agreed. "There are days when I think back to all that happened and wonder how I ever survived. Then, Sully and I will try to find some time to be together, but one or both of the children demand our attention, and it sometimes seems hopeless," she confessed.
"I can certainly understand how you're feeling, Michaela. When my husband was alive, and we were living in Georgia, we often tried to set aside one day each week where it was just going to be the two of us together. We would sometimes just sit and talk, or we would work on something together. I was fortunate enough to have my sister who lived not far from us, and she often took Sarah for me.
"However, there were many times when our lives would become so busy, we hardly had time to breathe, let alone spend time with each other, especially when Sarah was a little baby. Very often, that one day each week would turn into once every other week or sometimes even once a month," she recalled.
Michaela nodded in understanding. "It certainly isn't easy being a wife, a mother, and having to work, as well." She paused. "Did you work when you were in Georgia?"
"Yes, only it wasn't anything like being a doctor or running a café or writing a newspaper," Anna Marie replied. "I took in sewing jobs for those who required my assistance. I was taught to sew and play the piano from the time I could hold a needle and read music. I also learned to cook, although my mother wasn't completely convinced I needed to know so much about it. When I married, we didn't have as much money as my family did, but I was happy, and that was the most important thing. As it turned out, the skills I had been taught proved quite beneficial to me. Even after Sarah was born, I saw no reason to stop doing what I had always done. It gave me something to occupy my time, but also allowed me to be home to care for Sarah and our home."
"It seems we are both blessed that our husbands didn't mind us working and being a mother at the same time," Michaela stated.
"Yes, my husband was certainly a blessing to me, and to Sarah. There are some days when I wonder if we would have ever come out this far, had he not died, but I am thankful I have, for I have found some very special friends." She smiled at Michaela, then turned her head as several customers entered through the door.
"It appears as if everyone is coming to sample some of yours and Grace's delicious food," Michaela remarked with a smile.
"Yes, if you will excuse me. I very much enjoyed our little chat, Michaela. Don't worry about your Valentine's. I'm certain everything will work out."
"Thank you, Anna Marie," Michaela replied.
She remained at the table only long enough to finish the last of her meal, then departed, leaving the table for someone else who might need it. She waved to Grace and Anna Marie on her way out the door, and quickly returned to the clinic, where she found Sarah and Katie absorbed in a game of hide-and-go-seek. She smiled, knowing it was her daughter's favorite game.
She caught Sarah's eye and placed a finger over her lips, silently communicating that she would be the one to find Katie and surprise her. Walking very quietly to where she had seen her daughter upon entering the clinic, she kneeled down very quickly and snatched her daughter from her hiding place.
"Mama!" the little girl exclaimed.
"Hello, sweetheart. Were you and Sarah playing a game?"
"We play hide an' seek," Katie replied.
"Have you had your lunch yet?"
"Yes, mama. Sarah feed me." Michaela looked at Sarah, who immediately explained.
"Mama brought over some food from the café after you left. She must have been worried we wouldn't eat," Sarah said with a smile.
"I'm very grateful to you, Sarah, for watching Katie and taking care of her. I'm certain you would like to do some things for yourself, today. I am not expecting any other patients this afternoon, so you are free to leave if you wish," Michaela excused her.
"Thank you, Dr. Mike," Sarah replied. "I'll most likely be helping Mama at the café, but I don't mind."
"I would suggest you find Brian, but I know he's back home, working on his chores."
"That's all right, Dr. Mike. I'll see him in church tomorrow." She blushed and dipped her head, feeling she had babbled enough. Michaela just smiled. "I'll see you both on Monday," Sarah called, grabbing her coat, scarf and mittens and rushing out the door.
"Now, little girl. What do you say we finish everything here, and return home?"
"I help clean, Mama!" Katie offered.
"You most certainly will," Michaela agreed, giving her daughter a hug. "The faster we finish out work, the sooner we can get home and see your Papa," she encouraged.
Katie clapped and jumped up and down in excitement, causing Michaela to laugh. She sighed and hoped Sully wouldn't be gone long or be home too late.
* * * * *
" ...Plant this kernel in a flower pot,' said the witch, and see what happens. The woman did as she was told and by the and the seed grew and grew and grew. Until at last a strange, beautiful bud unfolded on the end of a long, green stem! 'What a pretty flower!' sighed the woman. She kissed the flower and as she did, its bright, silken petals opened. In the ceneter sat a teeny-tiny girl of about sixteen years. Her eyes were the deepest blue and her hair was long and golden. She wore a beautiful white gown and a strand of forget-me-nots around her dainty throat. The woman could hardly believe her eyes. She had a daughter even smaller than her thumb! 'I will call you....'"
Brian was reading to Katie, who was sitting in his lap in one of the wingback chairs. Michaela occupied the other chair, flipping through one of her medical books, but he pased in his reading.
"Tumbelina," Katie finished. *
At that moment, the front door opened.
"Papa!" Katie exclaimed, struggling to slide off of Brian's lap and run to Sully, who swung her into his arms the moment she reached him.
"How's my sweet girl?" he asked, hugging her to him.
"Good, papa," Katie replied. "Bran read me Tumbelina!"
"Tumbelina?" Sully replied, momentarily confused. "Oh! Thumbelina. He's readin' that to ya, again? Ain't ya tired of hearin' that story?"
"No, papa." The little girl shook her head. "I love Tumbelina."
"All right, Kates, if you say so." He kissed her cheek, then walked over to where Michaela sat, completely absorbed in her reading. She hadn't even noticed he was home. Sully looked at Katie and placed a finger over his lips. She mirrored the motion and nodded her head. Sully leaned down until he was just next to Michaela's ear and noticed her eyes were closed. "Must be a pretty good book!"
Michaela nearly jumped out of the chair at his voice. "Sully! I didn't even hear you come in!"
"So, I noticed." He chuckled, standing up straight again. "You didn't even hear Katie call out my name and come running to greet me. Now, why can't you greet me like that?" he forced a pout and gave her a sad look.
"Papa, don't cr-wy." Katie put her small hands on his mouth and tried to shape his lips back into a smile, but Sully persisted, kissing her hands instead, making her giggle.
Michaela couldn't help but smile at his antics, laying aside her book and rising from the chair to greet him. She eagerly accepted his kiss and hug. She pulled back a little to look into his eyes. "How do you think it would look if I were to run to you like Katie does? It simply isn't proper," she argued, then immediately lowered her voice and leaned in close to his ear. "I'll give you a more proper welcome, later," she whispered, suggestively.
Sully cleared his throat and stepped away from Michaela. "Kates, why don't ya go on back with Brian and finish listenin' to your story. I'm gonna get myself somethin' to eat."
"Yes, papa," Katie obediently replied.
Sully set down his daughter, and watched as she ran back to climb into Brian's lap. He gave his son a smile, silently thanking him, then turned to walk towards the sink to wash his hands before eating.
Michaela followed him and walked over to the stove. "I kept some supper warming. I knew you would be hungry when you arrived home," she explained.
"Michaela, I'm sorry I'm late. I know I promised not to be," he began.
"Don't worry about it, Sully. I understand. How did it go? Were you able to capture the horse thieves?"
"Yeah, we got 'em, all right. Didn't even expect anyone to know they were there. 'Course it took us a bit to plan a way to get 'em, but once we did that, it wasn't hard at all. The hard part was gettin' the horses back to where they belonged and gettin' the men into the jail in town. I got home soon as I could."
"I know that, Sully," she replied with a smile. She dished him a plate of stew from the pot on the stove, picked up a spoon and set it on the table.
Sully dried his hands and walked over to the table and sat down, immediately picking up the spoon to eat. He glanced at Michaela and silently asked her to join him, which she did. They both sat in silence for a few moments, before Michaela spoke.
"So, there were no problems at all? They didn't use their guns or fight in any way?"
Sully paused with the spoon halfway to his mouth, placing it back in the bowl. "Well, they had guns, but we didn't give 'em time to use them. We had 'em surrounded, and by the time they realized we were there, there was nothin' they could do. They tried to put up a fight, but there was only four of them them and five of us. Jake did go along, and with Matthew, Daniel, Hank and me, we outnumbered and outsmarted em." He lifted the spoon to his mouth yet again and took another bite of stew. "How about you?" he asked, once he had swallowed. "What did you do the rest of the day?"
"After you left, Anna Marie came over and we chatted a bit, but she soon had to return to work, and I returned to the clinic to relieve Sarah of her duties."
"What did you and Mrs. Sheehan talk about?"
"Oh, just women talk," Michaela teased.
"In other words, talkin' about men," he replied with a grin.
"You might say that." She smiled. "She told me about what it was like with her husband back in Georgia, and she even shared about working and being a mother as well. You know, Sully, the more she and I talk, the more we're finding we have in common."
"Well, you both come from back east, and from big cities. It's to be expected," he said, simply.
"Yes, that's true." She nodded. "I am finding I enjoy our talks, and with Brian spending so much time with Sarah, we find ourselves talking more often."
"I'd say he's pretty gone over her." Sully smiled, taking another bite of stew, then turning his head with Michaela to watch their son and daughter by the fireplace. Brian's voice drifted over to them.
"The prince frowned and an awkward silence fell between them. Then a thought came to Thumbelina's mind. Tell me about the fairy court!' she blurted. Is there a....prince?' Why, yes,' Prince Cornelius answered. His eyes twinkled mischievously. Thumbelina sighed and looked deep into the prince's eyes. He must be terribly handsome.' Oh .... he is,' Prince Cornelius said. A playful smile tugged at the corners of his mouth." *
"Mmm, terribly handsome. I agree," Michaela said, her eyes focused on Sully.
Sully turned his head to look at his wife and smiled, his love for her shining in his eyes, then resumed eating the rest of his stew.
It wasn't long before it was gone, and Michaela took his empty dish to the sink, where she washed and Sully dried it. He pulled her to him when that chore was done, and wrapped her snugly in his embrace. She leaned her head against his chest and sighed, content to just stand there forever.
"What do ya say we join our children in front of the fireplace?" Sully suggested.
"I think that sounds like a lovely idea," Michaela agreed, allowing Sully to take her hand in his and lead her towards the living room.
Brian paused and looked up when his parents entered the room, but they silently encouraged him to continue. Sully sat in the empty wingback chair, then patted his leg, inviting Michaela to join him. She hesitated only a moment, then situated herself on his left leg, placed her arm around his shoulders and leaned against him, facing the other chair where Brian sat with Katie. They all listened as Brian continued to read the story.
"Oh, Thumbelina, something happened to me tonight....something I never want to forget,' said the prince. Me, too,' Thumbelina agreed. Her heart leaped for joy inside her. Then, she lifted the strand of forget-me-nots from around her neck and put them on the prince. Do not forget me,' she said. "Cornelius looked down at the flowers. I'll never forget you,' he vowed. Then, the prince took the ring from his own finger and slipped the sparkling blue stone on Thumbelina's hand." *
Sully turned and looked at his wife. She felt his stare and turned to face him, their faces only inches apart. He lifted her left hand and fingered the two rings on her third finger. She looked at her own hand, then leaned down and met his lips with her own in a tender kiss. She broke apart and smiled, shifting slightly to place her head against his shoulder and listen to the rest of the fairy tale.
* * * * *
A little over an hour later, Katie's eyes were dropping as Brian finished the story.
"Then Cornelius whistled and Buzzbee dove out of the blue sky. And as the fairy prince held Thumbelina securely in his arms, the happy couple flew off at last into the sunshine. And from that day on, Thumbelina and Cornelius lived happily ever after. Voilá! *
The end!" he added, closing the book.
Michaela stirred from the comfort of Sully's arms and sat up, looking over at their daughter. "I think I see a little girl who's ready for bed," she remarked.
"Yeah," Brian agreed. "I think she's been ready for a while, but she's been fightin' to stay awake, just to hear the end of the story." He laughed and shook his head.
"I love Tumbelina," Katie mumbled, sleepily.
Michaela stood to her feet and stepped over to where Brian sat, leaning over to lift Katie into her arms. The little girl immediately turned and snuggled against Michaela, her eyes still closed.
Brian stood, stretched his arms above his head and yawned. "I think I'm gonna head to bed, too. I never knew how tiring readin' a book could be."
"I guess we'll all get some extra sleep tonight," Sully stated as he, too, stood to his feet. He looked at Michaela. "You go on up with Katie. I'll turn out the lamps down here and lock the doors, then be right behind ya."
"All right, Sully." Michaela turned to face her son. "Brian, why don't you go up ahead of me and Katie," she suggested.
"Sure, Ma," Brian agreed, leading the way.
Sully watched his family walk up the stairs, then moved to bank the fires in the fireplace and the stove, turn out the lamps and lock the doors. Before he went upstairs, he walked back towards the fireplace and kneeled next to Wolf. Usually, he slept outside, but Sully felt like spoiling him a little with the cold weather, especially considering the fact that Wolf wasn't the young pup he used to be. He'd been with Sully a number of years, and because of his faithful companionship, Sully didn't see the harm in allowing him the comfort of the warm fireplace.
Wolf lifted his ears when Sully stopped and kneeled next to him. He raised his head a little, then laid it back down when Sully reached out to stroke his fur. Sully just remained there for several moments, staring into the dying embers of the fireplace and lost in thought. He soon remembered he had promised Michaela he'd be right up, so he gave Wolf one final pat and stood to his feet, making his way to the stairs leading towards his bedroom.
When he reached the top, he stopped by Katie's room to find the little girl fast asleep and Michaela nowhere in sight. He quietly approached his daughter's bed and leaned down to place a tender kiss on her forehead, brushing back a few strands of hair and tucking the covers more securely around her. As quietly as he entered, he left and closed the door behind him. He stepped across the hall to Brian's room and said goodnight to him as well, before he made his way to his and Michaela's room.
The door was slightly open, and he pushed it open, finding Michaela sitting at her dressing table in her nightgown, brushing her hair. She looked up when he entered and smiled. "Did you get lost on your way up here?" she teased.
"I'm sorry, Michaela. I was just thinkin' about nothin' in particular. Just lost track of the time." He apologized.
"That's all right, Sully. You don't have to apologize all the time." She smiled and he smiled in return, realizing it was usually her who was apologizing, and him telling her it wasn't necessary.
He walked over to the wash basin, removed his shirt and splashed water on his face and bare chest. Michaela was still brushing her hair when he returned to stand behind her. He leaned down and placed a kiss on her cheek, brushing her hair behind her and moving back towards her ear. She placed the brush on her dressing table and leaned back against him, enjoying his touch. "Sully," she breathed.
He reached for her hands and drew her to her feet, walking with her to their bed, where he led her to sit, joining her on the same side.
"Now about that welcome...," he teased. He leaned in to kiss her again, but she stopped him with a hand on his lips.
She looked into his eyes and saw the fatigue in them. Wordlessly, she repositioned herself to lean back against the headboard. "Lean back against me," she instructed. He did, and she methodically began to massage his shoulders and back, feeling the tensions just seep out of him.
He closed his eyes and sighed, "Mmm, Michaela, that feels so nice."
Not too long after she began, her ministrations began to be more than just soothing . Sully felt the difference and turned around to see the corners of her mouth turn up in a slight smile. He returned the smile, then leaned towards her to place a kiss on her lips, which soon became quite passionate. Sully shifted and began to lean Michaela back on the bed.
"Mama! Papa! Mama! Papa!"
They broke apart, at first trying to figure out what it was that interrupted them, when Katie hollers again. Together, they sit up and both bound out of their bed, rushing to Katie's room. The little girl was sitting up in the darkness, clutching her bedclothes and sobbing, tears streaming down her face.
"Katie, sweetheart, what's the matter?" Michaela soothed, immediately drawing the little girl into her arms and rubbing her back.
"Toad.... and mole..... and beetle..... come and..... get me," she sobbed, taking short breaths in between her words.
Sully joined his wife and daughter on the bed. "Oh, Kates, they're not gonna get ya. It's just a story. You've heard that one before," Sully tried to reassure her.
"Your father's right, Katie. It's your favorite story. You've never been frightened before." Michaela spoke in a soft voice.
"But I scar-wed, Mama. I no want them get me." She sniffed, then hiccupped.
"They're not going to harm you, sweetheart. Your papa and I are right here with you. We'll keep you safe," Michaela promised.
Katie looked up at her parents, her tear-filled eyes nearly breaking their hearts. "I sleep with you?" she pleaded.
Michaela looked down at her daughter, then over at Sully, who nodded, continuing to rub his daughter's back. Together, the three of them stood, and Michaela repositioned her daughter in her arms, cradling her close. Sully kept his hand on Katie's back as they walked back to their room.
As soon as they entered, Sully closed the door behind them and Michaela leaned over to place Katie in the middle of their bed, immediately crawling in beside her. Sully walked around to the other side and crawled beneath the covers. He brought up his hand up to reveal Katie's stuffed bunny. She immediately took it and hugged it close, closing her eyes.
There was a knock on the door before Brian's entered. "Is Katie all right? I heard her cryin', but when I went to her room, I saw she wasn't there. Figured she'd be with you," he stated.
"Yes, Brian. Katie's fine," Michaela replied. "She simply had a bad dream which frightened her."
"Don't know why, but for some reason that story ya read her tonight had her dreamin' about the mole and toad comin' to get her." Sully had to fight hard to keep the grin tugging at the corners of his mouth from becoming a smile.
Brian noticed, and before he succumbed to the smile, he decided to leave. "Well, just wanted to make sure she was all right," he said as he began to close the door.
"Thank you for your concern, Brian," Michaela said. "Good night," she called.
"Night, Ma. Night, Pa," Brian replied.
Just before she closed her eyes, Michaela shrugged her shoulders and gave Sully a wan smile. He sighed and reached for her hand behind Katie's head. They each turned onto their sides to face her, laying a comforting hand on the little girl's shoulder as they fell asleep.